Sacramental Confirmation

All things being well, we shall have the Bishop visiting the parish for Confirmations soon. Let’s have a quick look at the Catechism on Confirmation, which is called a Sacrament of Initiation, making it all too important for the devout life. The great sign of Confirmation is the sacramental anointing, the first since the candidate was first baptised.

“Anointing with oil has all these meanings in the sacramental life. The pre-baptismal anointing with the oil of catechumens signifies cleansing and strengthening; the anointing of the sick expresses healing and comfort. The post-baptismal anointing with sacred chrism in Confirmation and ordination is the sign of consecration. By Confirmation Christians, that is, those who are anointed, share more completely in the mission of Jesus Christ and the fullness of the Holy Spirit with which He is filled, so that their lives may give off ‘the aroma of Christ.'”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1294

Consecration is dedication to God. When we hear of God’s call to the prophet Samuel in the first book of Kings in the readings at Mass (as we did during the last week), we don’t always hear that Samuel had first been dedicated and consecrated to God as a life-long Nazirite. The Nazirite vow of the Hebrews is important for us to understand as Christians, because the consecration/dedication that we ourselves undergo in Baptism and Confirmation is theologically closely related to it. When the Catechism speaks about permanent marks and indelible seals, it is speaking of a life-long consecration that few of us truly live up to. A well-known Old Testament life-long Nazirite who kept breaking breaking his rule was the judge Samson, and we know well through the popular story about what happened to him because of it.

The act of the laying on of hands by the bishops before the anointing with sacred oils is well documented in the Acts of the Apostles, when the deacon Saint Philip having converted and baptised numerous Samaritans calls the priests Saint Peter and Saint John from Jerusalem for the Confirmations.

“…Philip came and preached to them about God’s kingdom. Then they found faith and were baptized, men and women alike, in the Name of Jesus Christ; and Simon, who had found faith and been baptized with the rest, kept close to Philip’s side; he was astonished by the great miracles and signs he saw happening. And now the Apostles at Jerusalem, hearing that Samaria had received the word of God, sent Peter and John to visit them. So these two came down and prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Spirit, who had not, as yet, come down on any of them; they had received nothing so far except baptism in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Then the Apostles began to lay their hands on them, so that the Holy Spirit was given them…”

Acts of the Apostles, 8: 12-17

The Catechism is very clear about the type of preparation that is due to our candidates, a preparation that is quite impossible in just a few weekly meetings. Rather, it is ideally the work of several years of living the Christian life within the family. How else could our candidates be drawn into an ‘intimate union with Christ’ and a ‘lively familiarity with the Holy Spirit,’ and awaken a ‘sense of belonging’ to the universal Church (CCC 1309)? Don’t most of us simply treat Confirmation as some essential rite of passage for young adults of a certain age? In this, we do them an injustice.

Here is a summary of the Catechism, and we shall allow the Catechism to have the last word.

“A candidate for Confirmation who has attained the age of reason must profess the faith, be in the state of grace, have the intention of receiving the sacrament, and be prepared to assume the role of disciple and witness to Christ, both within the ecclesial community and in temporal affairs.”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, #1319
J. A. Riedel, “The Seven Sacraments,” (1754)